The Eastern Cape Tourist Attractions: A Complete Guide

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Eastern Cape Tourist Attractions

The Eastern Cape Province in South Africa offers unspoiled beaches, dense bush, and lush forests. Nelson Mandela called this province home. This province has many attractions for visitors to choose from. If you’ve wondered about the best things to do in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa, you can find a complete guide to the Eastern Cape’s tourist attractions in this article! 

Where is the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa?

South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province is located in the southern central part of the country. It borders several South African provinces, with the Western Cape Province bordering it on the west, the Northern Cape Province on the northwest, the Free State Province and the small country of Lesotho in the North and the KwaZulu-Natal province to the northeast. The Indian Ocean borders it on the southeastern and southern sides. 

Here is a map showing the location of the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa:

Map of South Africa with the Eastern Cape highlighted

The complete list of the Eastern Cape tourist attractions

This map shows the location of the best places to visit in the Eastern Cape Province:

Let’s discover the best tourist attractions in the Eastern Cape:

See Elephants in Their Natural Habitat at The Addo Elephant Park

The Addo Elephant National Park is approximately 72 kilometres north of Port Elizabeth. It is the third largest of South Africa’s national parks and boasts the densest elephant population in the world. 

Addo Elephant National Park - an Eastern Cape Tourist Attraction
Addo Elephant National Park – an Eastern Cape Tourist Attraction

The Park was established in 1931 to save the South African bush elephants from extinction. Currently, the Park is a habitat not only for elephants but also for a wide variety of other animals, including Cape gannets, antelope, zebras, bush pigs and African penguins. A unique feature of the Park is that it is the only Park globally where you can see the Big 7! 

Did you know? The Big 7 refers to the Big 5 animals, plus the great white shark and the southern right whale. The Big 5 include elephants, rhinos, leopards, lions and Cape Buffaloes.

Some of the visitors’ favourite activities at the Park include horseback riding, hiking trails and guided day and nighttime game drives. You can also be a day visitor and explore the Park in your own vehicle or through a guided tour. The Park offers accommodation in campsites, chalets and cottages. 

Click here for accommodation options near Addo Elephant Park.

Read here about a unique interaction with elephants at an Elephant Sanctuary.

See Zebras in The Mountain Zebra National Park 

The Mountain Zebra National Park is approximately 24 kilometres from the small town of Cradock. The Mountain Zebra National Park was established in 1937 to protect the habitat of the Cape Mountain zebra. It currently hosts many other animal species, including cheetahs, rhinos, buffaloes and lions. Visitors can enjoy 4×4 trails or hike in this national Park. The Park offers cottages or camping as accommodation options. 

Click here for accommodation options near the Mountain Zebra National Park.

Visit the Port St John’s Lighthouse 

When you visit Port St Johns, definitely visit the Hermes Lighthouse. This lighthouse was built from stone in 1903. It was named after the HMS Hermes that monitored the Pondoland coastal waters to warn passing ships of the rugged rocks in the bay of danger on the East Coast of South Africa. Other attractions in Port St John include the Umzimvubu River, the mountains, gorges and forests. 

Click here for accommodation options near Port St Johns.

Experience the Wild Coast of South Africa

If you’re looking for adventure, the Wild Coast is the place to visit! The Wild Coast is an area of exceptional natural beauty. It features rolling green hills, countless beaches with isolated bays and waterfalls flowing into the ocean. 

The Wild Coast is the ancestral home of the Xhosa people. During apartheid, it was part of the Transkei, a territory independent of South Africa. It became part of the Eastern Cape Province in 1994 when apartheid ended.

Hole in the wall in the Wild Coast in the Eastern Cape Province
Photo by Joshua Gaunt on Unsplash

You need a four-wheeled drive vehicle to explore the Wild Coast fully. The region offers hiking tracks connecting the local villages, but you can also explore the trails on horseback. 

Some famous attractions in the Wild Coast are the Inkwenkwezi Private Game Reserve and the Hole in the Wall, an arch carved naturally by thrashing surf.

Coffee Bay, Morgan Bay or Port St. Johns is the best base town for exploring the Wild Coast. 

Visit the Idyllic Hogsback – one of The Eastern Cape’s Tourist Attractions 

Hogsback in the Eastern Cape Province
Hogsback in the Eastern Cape Province

You can find the Hogsback in the Amathole Mountains with lush forests surrounding them. The Hogsback has three scenic peaks overlooking the village. This charming place is popular with local and international visitors because of its beautiful gardens and cosy cottages. There are many hiking trails to explore in the forests and the mountains here, several offering stunning panoramas of the Amathole Mountains.

Click here for accommodation options for the Hogsback.

Have a Safari Adventure at The Inkwenkwezi Private Game Reserve

The Inkwenkwezi Private Game Reserve houses a fantastic array of wildlife, including Cape Buffalo, lions, zebras, giraffes, rhinos, and antelope. There is a separate 150-hectare reserve for white lions. It also has an abundance of birdlife, with over 285 different species. 

Day visitors can do a self-drive tour or take a guided tour in an open-topped 4WD vehicle. Other activities here include a forest walk, canoeing and quad bike tours.

Click here to see the accommodation options near the Inkwenkwezi Private Game Reserve

Explore the Tsitsikamma National Park

At the end of South Africa’s Garden Route, you can find the Tsitsikamma National Park, with its beautiful coastlines, dense forests and glistening rivers leading to the ocean. Nature lovers can hike, kayak, snorkel or mountain bike here.

Stormsriver Bridge one of the Eastern Cape tourist attractions
Stormsriver Bridge one of the Eastern Cape tourist attractions

One of the famous attractions in the Tsitsikamma National Park is the Storms River Suspension Bridge. This bridge is 77 meters long and crosses the foaming waters of the Storms River mouth. Visitors hike through forests rich with bird life, waterfalls and viewpoints to get to the bridge. 

Click here for accommodation options near the Tsitsikamma National Park.

Staying in Storms River Village allows you to explore the Tsitsikamma National Park and surrounding attractions. Here is a sample Garden Route itinerary to use for inspiration.

Bungee Jump at The Bloukrans Bridge

Bloukrans Bridge for bungee jumping in the Eastern Cape Province
Bloukrans Bridge for bungee jumping in the Eastern Cape Province

Visitors can find the Bloukrans Bridge in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa near Nature’s Valley on the Garden Route. It is the highest single-span arch bridge and commercially operated bungee jump globally. For those not interested in jumping, walk to the top of the bridge’s arch for panoramic views of the area. You will feel the adrenaline flowing when you jump off this 216-metre-high bridge.

Click here for accommodation options near the Bloukrans Bridge.

See old cars at the St Croix Motor Museum

Car lovers must visit the St Croix Motor Museum in Newton Park, Port Elizabeth. They can view vintage and classic vehicles from as early as the 1900s. There are more than 80 cars on display from the early 1920s to the late 1960s. The museum also displays other motor-industry artefacts. This museum is only open on Saturday afternoons. If you want to visit during the week, make an appointment at +27 83 463-5285. 

Here are accommodation options near the St Croix Motor Museum.

Visit One of South Africa’s Oldest Towns: Graaff-Reinet 

Graaff-Reinet is one of South Africa’s oldest towns. The Dutch East India Company established the town in 1786. A visit to Graaff-Reinet takes you to many historic buildings and cultural landmarks. Here, you can see the restored Karoo-style homes and buildings, such as the Reinet House in the Cape Dutch style. The Reinet House is a museum with furniture and farming equipment from the 18th and 19th centuries. It also houses a doll collection from World War I. 

Valley of Desolation in the Camdeboo National Park
Valley of Desolation in the Camdeboo National Park

Another must-see destination near Graaff-Reinet is the Camdeboo National Park. The views and landscapes in this national Park can be jaw-dropping and include sights such as the Valley of Desolation and the Cathedral of Mountains. You can also mountain bike or hike here. For something different, try windsurfing at the Nqweba Dam

Here are some accommodation options near Graaff-Reinet.

Eastern Cape Tourist Attraction: See the Sculptures at The Owl House

Nieu-Bethesda - a small town in the Eastern Cape
Photo by Mzimasi Ndzombane on Unsplash

You can find the Owl House in the small town of Nieu-Bethesda, near Graaff-Reinet. The Owl House is a quirky museum that attracts many visitors to the village each year to see the sculptures of the eccentric sculptor and recluse Helen Martins. Helen lived on the property between 1945 and 1976. She created hundreds of sculptures of owls, mermaids, camels, pilgrims and other characters using old bottles, cement pieces, glass, mirrors, and wires. 

Click here for accommodation near Nieu-Bethesda.

Learn About the Settlers’ History in Grahamstown

Grahamstown‘s name changed in June 2018 to Makhanda, a legendary Xhosa warrior and prophet. It is a historic university town where the white settlers and Xhosa battled in the early 19th century. The town is known as the “city of saints” because it has more than 40 churches. The best-known church is the impressive Cathedral of St. Michael and St. George’s Cathedral, with the tallest spire in South Africa.

Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape Province
Photo by Joshua Dixon on Unsplash

Visitors can learn about the town’s history at the Observatory Museum, which boasts a Victorian-style interior with displays of antique telescopes and old furniture. It also has the only camera obscura in South Africa, showing an image of the town and its surroundings in clear weather.

What is a camera obscura? According to Wikipedia, a camera obscura is a darkened room with a small hole or lens on one side, through which an image is projected onto a wall or table opposite the hole.

The Settlers Monument is another popular tourist attraction. It is a cultural centre that opened in 1974 and is the venue of the annual Arts Festival. The National Arts Festival is the largest on the content of Africa. There is a bronze monument at the entrance that depicts a settler family in the dress of the early 19th century. 

Learn here about the accommodation options in Grahamstown.

Learn About Khoisan History at The East London Museum

To learn more about the region’s history, visit the East London Museum. Here, you can gain an understanding of the Khoisan people and the battles between the Xhosa and the British during the 19th-century Frontier Wars.

Click here for accommodation near the East London Museum.

Explore the Baviaanskloof Wilderness Area with A 4 Wheel Drive

Baviaanskloof in the Eastern Cape Province
Baviaanskloof in the Eastern Cape Province

The Baviaanskloof Wilderness Area is approximately 90 kilometres from Port Elizabeth. It is the perfect destination for a 4WD adventure and is one of South Africa’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Furthermore, it is the third-largest inland conservancy in the world. You can spot mountain zebras, Cape buffalo, mongoose, vervet monkeys and many species of birds, such as fish-eagles, here. 

Click here for accommodation near the Baviaanskloof Wilderness Area.

Ski at The Tiffindell Ski & Alpine Resort

South Africa only has one (snow) ski resort, Tiffindell Ski & Alpine Resort. The resort is located on the Ben McDhui mountain peak of the Drakensberg Mountains. It is open year-round and has facilities for skiing & snowboarding. 

Here are the accommodation options near Tiffendell Ski Resort.

Visit the Nelson Mandela Museum

The Eastern Cape is where the late President Nelson Mandela was born. He was born in Mvezo on the Wild Coast in 1918. The Nelson Mandela Museum is in the town of Mthatha. The museum has two main sites: the Nelson Mandela Youth and Heritage Centre in Qunu and the Bhunga Building in Mthatha. A third site, Mvezo, is not operated by the museum. It gives visitors a cultural experience with insights into Nelson Mandela’s life. Visitors can do guided tours and a heritage trail following in his footsteps.

Here are accommodation options near the Nelson Mandela Museum in Mthatha.

Surfing in The Eastern Cape Province

The Eastern Cape is a haven for surfers and swimmers. It offers several excellent spots for surfing, such as:

Surf or Swim in Jeffrey’s Bay

Surfing at Jeffreys Bay in the Eastern Cape
Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

Jeffrey’s Bay, or J-Bay, is known internationally for the best right-hand surf break in the world! Every year many international renown surfers come to Jeffrey’s Bay to try its challenging Surf Break. Apart from surfing, Jeffreys’ bay offers beautiful blue flag beaches, reefs and views of dolphins. You will find many craft shops near the surf shops and beaches. 

Here are Jeffrey’s Bay’s accommodation options.

Surf at St Francis Bay

St Francis Bay is a popular surfing destination for experienced surfers. Many consider St Francis Bay the place for the best waves in South Africa. The waves at Seal Point, near the Seal Point Lighthouse, start from ground swells but have an angle from the South Easterly direction, producing the best swell.

Here are St Francis Bay’s accommodation options.

See a Flower Wonderland at Van Staden’s Wild Flower Reserve

Van Stadens Wild Flower Reserve
Photo by Gregory Fullard on Unsplash

The Van Staden’s Wild Flower Reserve is a 500-hectare reserve approximately 40 kilometres from Port Elizabeth. It offers a combination of natural vegetation and cultivated floral areas where the reserve propagates indigenous plants and flowers. Visitors can do bird-watching, hiking, biking or have picnics here. 

Here are the accommodation options near Van Staden’s Wild Flower Reserve.

Enjoy Watersports at Port Elizabeth’s Beaches

Kings Beach in Port Elizabeth
Kings Beach in Port Elizabeth

Port Elizabeth has over 40 kilometres of safe blue-flag beaches, such as Kings Beach, Wells Estate Beach and Humewood Beach. Pollock Beach is perfect for surfing, while Sardinia Bay is an excellent spot for diving and snorkelling. Bluewater Bay and Brighton are each well-liked by anglers, while Hobie Beach is popular with windsurfers.

Here are the accommodation options in Port Elizabeth.

Read here about the best beaches in Cape Town.

Explore Route 67 – One of The Eastern Cape Tourist Attractions

Route 67 in Port Elizabeth celebrates Mandela’s legacy with several attractions dedicated to him. It is a self-guided walking route of 67 pieces of art inspired by Mandela. The number 67 represents the 67 years Mandela served the public (including his 27 years in prison). 

Route 67 in Port Elizabeth
Image by harubaba from Pixabay

Route 67 starts at the Campanile on Strand Street and ends at the Great Flag in the Donkin Reserve. The most impressive art piece is the 38-metre-high Voting Line Sculpture in the Donkin Reserve. It is a steel cut-out of Mandela with a raised fist.

Here are the accommodation options in Port Elizabeth.  

Go Hiking in The Eastern Cape Province

There are several hikes you can choose to do in the Eastern Cape Province:

Hike the Donkin Heritage Trail

The Donkin Heritage Trail is a short, easy 5-kilometre hiking trail in Port Elizabeth. You can follow in the footsteps of the 1820 settlers to the area and pass over 47 historical sites in Port Elizabeth, such as the Donkin Lighthouse, Donkin Pyramid, Port Elizabeth City Hall, market square and Fort Frederick. Get a map of the trail at the tourist office at the Donkin Lighthouse. 

Hike the Sacramento Trail

The Sacramento Trail is in the Sardinia Bay Nature Reserve. It is 8 kilometres long and follows the coastline between Schoenmakerskop and Sardinia Bay. From the trail, you can see dolphins and gannets in the ocean. 

Hike the Otter Trail

The Otter Trail is one of the Eastern Cape’s tourist attractions. It is a well-known hiking trail in the Tsitsikamma National Park from where hikers can see porpoises, whales and dolphins swimming in the nearby ocean.

Go Diving in The Eastern Cape Province

One of Nelson Mandela Bay’s most popular diving spots is Bell Buoy Reef near Hobie Beach. The Bell Buoy Reef has a depth of 20 meters. 

Tours to Explore the Eastern Cape’s Tourist Attractions

Here are some of the exciting tour options to explore South Africa’s Eastern Cape tourist attractions:

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    By Sunelle

    Editor of the South Africa Travel Blog that focuses on travel to South Africa, including destinations, attractions, accommodation, food & drink.

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